Joel Freeland's Great Britain basketball team-mates have backed the new Portland Trail Blazers signing to shine in the NBA, after he completed his move from the Spanish team Unicaja Malaga. The 25-year-old has signed a deal worth a reported $9 million (£5.8m) over three seasons to join the team that drafted him aged 19 in 2006.
Freeland was granted permission to miss the Olympic warm-up games against Portugal this weekend – Britain won yesterday's first game in Sheffield, 83-68; the second is today – to travel to the United States for a medical.
"I'm really, really happy for him," said Britain's coach, Chris Finch, who works in the NBA as an assistant at the Houston Rockets. "For me it was a matter of time. I think for the last two or three years, Joel has been an NBA-level player. He has NBA size, NBA ability and NBA athleticism. I told him the first day I saw him in Houston [at a training camp last month] it was time for him to go."
Freeland will join Britain's Chicago Bulls star, Luol Deng, in the world's flagship league.
"I'm excited for Joel," Deng said. "Everybody here wants to play at the highest level and we all agree the NBA is [the highest]. He's done a tremendous job in Europe but it's time for him now. In the last few years he's grown so much as a player, and matured so much as a person, he's ready for it."
Portland drafted the Surrey-born Freeland, 30th overall, in 2006, when he was playing in Spain's third tier. They encouraged him to develop his game in Europe. Britain's Robert Archibald, who was Freeland's team-mate for two years before joining Zaragoza last year and who was picked 32nd by Memphis in the 2002 NBA draft, said: "The 2006 draft was the first I heard of him. Up to that point I was the highest-picked British player [Deng and Ben Gordon were yet to acquire British citizenship when they were drafted by NBA teams], and then he came along, so the first impression wasn't great!
"But then I started coming across him playing in Spain and the more he got the chance to play, the more he showed he could do a lot of good things. You could just see he had a ton of potential, and he was always willing to take advice and put his time in working. Obviously, that's paid off for him now."